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Gaza militants fire rockets deep into Israel

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By ARON HELLER
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 3:45 PM

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a new wave of rockets that landed deep inside Israel Thursday, defying Israeli retaliatory attacks and threats.

As the violence threatened to escalate the day after a deadly Jerusalem bombing, Israel got a boost from the visiting U.S. defense chief, who said no country could tolerate the "repugnant" attacks on its soil.

Police said Gaza militants fired 10 rockets and mortars toward Israel Thursday, including two rockets that landed north of the city of Ashdod - a first since Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers reached an unofficial truce following a three-week war that ended in January 2009. Israeli airstrikes hit a number of Gaza targets in retaliation throughout the day.

Neither side reported injuries or said they wanted a new fight. But the new hostilities could easily spin out of control, especially if civilian deaths mount.

Wednesday's bombing killed a British tourist, and five members of a Jewish family were slain while they slept in a West Bank settlement earlier this month. Israel has blamed Palestinians for both attacks.

Also this week, Israeli shelling killed three children and their uncle in Gaza. The army said it was targeting militants.

The fighting in Gaza has been the fiercest since Israel went to war there to try to curb years of rocket attacks. The fierce three-week offensive killed some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died. The volatile border has remained largely calm since.

But Israel says Hamas has used the lull to rearm with longer distance rockets that can reach as far as Tel Aviv.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak blamed Hamas for the rocket fire and vowed to strike back.

"Israel will not tolerate these terror attacks and we will not allow terror to rise once again in the region," he said.

His tough stance was backed by visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said that no sovereign state could tolerate rockets fired at its people.

"Israel, like all nations, has the right to self-defense and to bring to justice the perpetrators of these repugnant attacks," he said.


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